“If These Walls Could Talk!”
Laurie Nienhaus is making Fort Myers Beach history out of Fort Myers Beach history! The author, director and one of the stars of “If These Walls Could Talk,” the theatrical play based on the iconic Mound House, is preparing the production for a one-night-only return performance at St. Raphael’s Episcopal Church on Friday, February 17, at 7:30 p.m., with an accompanying wine and cheese reception at 7 p.m.
The Mound House, Estero Island’s oldest standing structure now owned by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and restored to its 1921 grandeur, sits atop an ancient Calusa Indian shell mound. Over 2,000 years ago, the Calusa dominated Southwest Florida as fisher-gatherers, but by the 1750s they vacated the area. In 1898 Robert Gilbert filed his claim to build what is now the Mound House, leading the way to several colorful characters who would own it over the next century-plus.
“Barbara Hill, who was then president of the Friends of the Mound House, called me in Summer 2016,” Laurie relates, “to ask if they could commission me to write a play about the site as a fundraiser. My initial reaction was to decline because family issues require a great deal of time, but you don’t get the idea, the idea gets you, and the idea rules! I asked if I could do a satire, as I live to put fun into things, and they said ‘go ahead’ and gave me free rein.”
Laurie’s immediate problem became “exactly where do I go from here? We have all these historical characters but they lived in different eras. My first thought was they will all meet and start talking but that would only be a great ten minutes and then what? Since I am a public speaker and the first one to make fun of myself, I included me in the show to tie together all the stories, even though I really don’t know there is a play going on around me, and that brought everything together. It lasts roughly 55 minutes, with a cast of 14, with a lot of coming and going, and a bunch of unexpected surprises!”
Giggling On The Inside
She explained, “the original play changed quite a bit once I worked with our amazing cast who really know their characters. I thought it was already funny, but they added dialogue that is a perfect fit; they ran with their parts and lift my words…When I see what the cast does with my work, I giggle on the inside – the first performance was just ‘ohh!’”
Laurie expressed her gratitude to Carmine Calcagni Pacchino and Elizabeth D’Onofrio, the two most-seasoned actors. “I am not a trained director,” she explained, “so I do this flying by the seat of my pants, and it is even more difficult here because I am on stage so much, so they provide a critical eye and excellent advice; I value their expertise.”
Laurie did not hold auditions for “If These Walls Could Talk,” having worked with most of the actors in her previous shows, recruiting them with “charm going on bribery.” She added that there are a few new actors and she enjoys helping them in their first production.
As for the venue, “St. Raphael’s stage is magnificent but a bit of a dinosaur, without sound or electrical lighting,” Laurie explains. “Semmer Electric donated and installed the lights for free! Former Fort Myers Beach mayor Dan Hughes, who is a Mound House supporter and congregation member, suggested we do the show at St. Raphael. I knew the stage, preferred an indoor venue, and the rent was right. The only drawback is it would be awesome if they had a sound system, but that is a minor quibble. We thank as well the Cypress Lakes High School theater department that lent us so many things.”
The Reverend Dr. John Alder, St. Raphael’s vicar, opens the play. “He is the complete package,” said Laurie, who recently joined the church as its Administrative Aide. “He is so inspirational, a lovely human being, and so easy to work with. When we sold out the house in November with 160 people, he joked that is better than he gets at his sermons! Ceel Spuhler is special as well; she tells me stories we use in the play, of what people lived through and things we should always remember; Ceel is appreciative of our past and always reminds us to never forget our yesterdays. Before opening night, she gave me a silver angel charm; she is so sweet and kind and one of the great Grand Dames of Fort Myers Beach!”
Be My Valentine!
Becky Werner, President of the Friends of the Mound House, says all proceeds go to the institution for its educational and marketing programs. “We sold out in November and expect to again. With the combination wine and cheese reception and theatrical performance, these tickets make an excellent Valentine’s Day gift, especially for that husband who never knows what to get his wife…Laurie is incredible and our local resident-actors are so good, that adds to the excitement.”
Play tickets are $25 each and available from Ceel Spuhler at 239-765-6472 or from any Friends of the Mound House Board Member. In the unlikely chance they do not sell out in advance, tickets will be available at the door; St. Raphael’s is at 5601 Williams Drive, off Glenview Manor Drive.
Laurie describes “If These Walls Could Talk” as “so rewarding! People loved the first performance, the camaraderie of the cast and crew is special and it touched the heart of the beach community. The best part for me, though, came from my husband and daughter, who are my toughest critics. My daughter told me she loved it, but at one point during the show, I Iooked up and saw my husband react. He is not very emotional, so to see him do that was wonderful! Moments like that make it all worthwhile.” Experience this emotion for yourself at “If These Walls Could Talk” on Friday, February 17, at 7:30 p.m.
The Mound House is at 451 Connecticut Street, with admission $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free. Fort Myers Beach residents receive a 50% discount, and access to the dog-friendly grounds is free. It is open January through April Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and from May through December on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; for information call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.